West Wilson Middle, Stoner Creek Elementary schools suffer extreme damage
A tornado made its way through much of Middle Tennessee early Tuesday morning, leaving a path of destruction and injuries in its wake. Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto declared a state of emergency for the county after an EF-3 tornado, with wind speeds around 155-160 mph, devastated areas in Mt. Juliet and Lebanon on March 3, 2020.
According to Wilson County Emergency Management Agency (WEMA) Director Joey Cooper, three people were confirmed dead in Mt. Juliet as of Tuesday morning. A couple, 84-year-old James Eaton Sr. and and 81-year-old Donna Eaton, were found in their home on Catalpa Drive. Brandy Barker, age 38 of Lebanon, was killed at CEVA Logistics on Volunteer Boulevard where she worked as a security consultant.
At least 24 people were killed as the tornado moved through Davidson, Wilson, Smith and Putnam counties. Eighteen of the 24 fatalities were in Putnam, five of whom were children under the age of 13. As of Wednesday morning, 21 people were still unaccounted for. Schools across Middle Tennessee have also closed for the remainder of the week.
President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that the federal government will continue monitoring the situation. He will also visit Middle Tennessee and impacted areas on Friday.
Multiple businesses were impacted and many homes were severely damaged or destroyed. Mt. Juliet Police said Tuesday night that all destroyed structures had been thoroughly searched by multiple crews and that there were no outstanding reports of missing persons.
Parts of Mt. Juliet and Lebanon, especially around the Interstate 40 corridor, experienced extended power outages. Cooper said Middle Tennessee Electric Corporation is working continuously to quickly restore as many power facilities as they can, however outages could last days.
“We have made preparations already for hospitals, nursing homes, thing like that, that can or cannot go without power for that long,” said Cooper.
Wilson County Schools, which were closed Tuesday for the election, will remain closed through the rest of the week. Schools are also out next week for spring break, which will allow for more damage assessment and cleanup as well as planning for the final two months of the school year.
Much of the damage was focused along North Mt. Juliet Road. West Wilson Middle School and Stoner Creek Elementary School were the the direct path of the tornado and both suffered severe damage.
“I’m so thankful that we weren’t in school and that there were no children sitting in the building when this happened,” said Director of Wilson County Schools Donna Wright. “This is really devastating for this community and really cross Wilson County as well.”
Wright stressed that while the damage is shocking and heartbreaking, buildings can be replaced.
“It’s a day we’ll never forget,” read a statement from Wilson County Schools. “But it’s also a day where our cup of thankfulness overflows that this weather disaster did not happen during a school day. “We say thank you to all the kind words of encouragement, thoughts and prayers that have been sent to us from across our great state of Tennessee, the United States and even across the world.”
“We will get through this,” the statement continued. “We are family. We are Wilson County Schools #WilsonStrong #StrongerTogether”.
Mt. Juliet and Wilson County law enforcement are coordinating with responders from surrounding areas, such as Murfreesboro and Sumner County, in efforts to support and restore affected areas.
“I ask the public to keep their thoughts and prayers for everybody impacted by this horrific event we had [Monday] night,” said Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan.
Bryan also said that law enforcement will have an increased presence in the areas most affected by the storms as a way to serve the area and deter criminal activity, such as looting, and taking advantage of those who have already lost so much.
“There’s no rhyme or reason for someone to be out there re-victimizing these victims,” he said.
Major roadways and residential streets remain under active closure. Updates can be found by following Mt. Juliet Police Department across social media. Closures include:
Golden Bear Gateway (Rutland to I-40), Beckwith Road (E. Division to Golden Bear), Athletes Way N., Volunteer Boulevard, Clearview Drive, Weston Drive, Barrett Drive, Fairview Drive, Longview Drive, Fairview Knoll Court, Catalpa Drive, Fescue Drive, Dogwood Drive, and all of the Triple Crown neighborhood.
MJPD also announced a curfew on Tuesday night for the areas most affected by the storms, not the entire city and is designed to aid police in protecting homes and property from potential thieves. Police say that individuals who are not property owners or guests of property owners are prohibited from remaining or traveling on public or private property in the designated curfew areas between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. The curfew is applied to the following areas:
Triple Crown neighborhood, Catalpa Drive, Fescue Drive, Dogwood Drive, Clearview Drive, Barrett Drive, Volunteer Boulevard, Athletes Way, Athletes Way North.
Public Works crews are going through impacted areas collecting debris. They ask that debris is sorted and placed close to the roadways, and that trash, such as metal and plastic, is not mixed with vegetation, such as trees, bushes and fallen limbs.
Businesses and members of the community stepped up to provide shelter, food and a place to rest for displaced victims, first responders and volunteers. Baymont Inn locations in Mt. Juliet and Hermitage as well as Holiday Inn in Providence provided overnight stays for displaced victims.
Victory Baptist Church, 1777 Tate Lane, opened its doors Tuesday to house many victims and provide extra resources for responders. Highland Heights Church of Christ, 505 N. Cumberland Street in Lebanon, also provided shelter and resources for people affected in their community.
A prayer vigil will be held Thursday, March 5, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Providence Church, 2293 S. Rutland Road in Mt. Juliet. This will give the community a chance to unite in thoughts and prayers for everyone impacted by the storms and for the responders and volunteers.
Mayor Hutto said it was a blessing, in the midst of tragedy, that the tornado hit at midnight rather than midday as the casualties would have been unlimited. He also praised the amount of people who have already volunteered to assist in whatever way they can.
“As you settle in tonight, I ask that you count your blessings, look around at your home, hug your families,” said Hutto. “Tomorrow will be another day that you can help a neighbor. I ask you to go find them.”
A committee has been created to handle the support from the community and across the nation, which will organize volunteer assistance and donations. Police say that volunteers are discouraged from entering neighborhoods at the moment due to priority work being conducted by government agencies and public utilities, but this weekend would be the best time to volunteer.
People wishing to volunteer within the city can complete a registration form on the Mt. Juliet Tornado Clean-up Volunteer Portal at www.mjpdnews.org/volunteer/.